Don’t fret – the Oxygen magazine answers your burning questions about the post-weight-lose loose skin, including what you can do about it.
Anyone who has lost a significant amount of weight knows that the weight loss itself is only half the battle.
Long after the weight melts away, the extra skin has a way of sticking around.
What causes the skin to sag after a significant weight loss?
“There is an inherent elasticity in everyone’s skin, but once you get to a certain size, the elasticity decreases,” explains Jason Spector, M.D., assistant professor of plastic surgery at Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
The tissue expands and your body literally makes more skin by producing more skin cells. And those annoying stretch marks? “They are the artifacts of the breakdown of the normal architecture of skin,” Spector says.
Plan of Action: Keep your skin moisturized with inexpensive lotion and water.
What are the biggest factors that determine my skin’s elasticity?
“The two biggest factors that determine skin elasticity are age and genetics,” Spector says. And, unfortunately, both are out of our control. How quickly you’ve gained the weight, as well as how quickly you’ve lost it, may also be a factor.
Losing weight over a longer period of time may give you more of a fighting chance. However, Spector says, there are no credible studies that show what a person can do to head off the excess skin as they’re losing weight.
Plan of Action: Slower weight loss – one to two pounds a week – can help with your skin’s elasticity.
Can my diet help me to lose some of the extra skin?
Yes, in small ways. “Your intake of food and fluids before, during, and after losing weight is a factor for your skin,” says Harry Pino, Ph.D., director of exercise physiology at the Obesity Consult Center of Tufts-New England Medical Center.
First, Pino advocates maintaining a lower fat diet and eating lean proteins to help minimize the extra skin, even after you’ve lost the weight. Second, hydration is crucial. That means drinking plenty of water [64 ounces or eight cups per day].
Also, when someone exercises vigorously, they lose electrolytes (like sodium and potassium! through sweat; water alone can’t replace this, which is why Pino recommends using sports drinks with electrolytes.
Pino also recommends that his patients eat lots of water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. “A well-hydrated body helps your muscles to respond better to strength training,” he says.
“Staying properly hydrated is also terrific for skin health in general,” says Jonathan Ross, owner of Aion Fitness outside Washington, D.C. and the American Council on Exercise’s personal trainer of the year.
Plan of Action: Carry a water bottle around with you all day.
What about my fitness routine? Are there specific exercises I can do to tone up my skin?
“It isn’t that you’re toning up the skin itself,” says Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. “But by adding muscle, you can form a tight layer under the skin.” That can improve how the skin looks, and take away some of the sag effect.
Basically, the best course of action is to preserve your muscles while losing fat, Pino says. That’s especially important for people who have followed strict calorie restriction plans because they may have lost muscle right along with the fat.
You have to build the muscle back up again. “Endurance exercise will burn fat, but you also need to add strength training,” he says, noting that the skin of patients who do both tends to react better.
Plan of Action: Work with both dumbbells and resistance-training machines. Emphasize higher reps with lower weights.
Can all this extra skin be healthy?
“It’s far better to have extra skin than the alternative – extra weight. Sagging skin puts much less stress on your heart and metabolic system than fat,” Bryant says.
There are times, however, when the skin can become yeasty and infected, which is uncomfortable and a medical problem. Ross actually worked with a woman who went from 380 to 155 pounds, which left her with a layer of skin around her waist and back that kept getting infected.
Her insurance actually paid for her to have surgery to remove the skin (which is actually rare, Ross says).
Plan of Action: Keep an eye on changes to your skin and if you have any concerns at all, consult your doctor.
Surgery seems extreme. At what point is that an option?
Certainly, if you have infection problems, surgery – often called “body contouring” – can be necessary. But other than that, it’s a personal decision.
Spector sees patients seeking surgery every day, most often for the extra skin around the midsection, where a scar can easily be hidden in the bikini line.
He’s also performed surgeries to remove excess skin in arms and thighs (it’s much harder to hide these scars], and to fill in and lift deflated breasts. He always recommends that a person wait at least six months after losing weight to ensure that they are at a stable weight.
Recovery time for the surgery varies, but usually patients go home from the hospital in a few days and take a few weeks off from work.
Surgery is the only solution that gets rid of the skin for good, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. After all, it involves general anesthesia, suturing, recovery time, and scarring.
It’s often expensive and most patients have to pay out of pocket. “It’s not an easy path, but it can be rewarding,” Spector says.
Plan of Action: Be your best research tool. Find out all you can, plasticsurgery.org